Today’s posting, the hardest to write, coincides with an obituary for “Courtroom Tony” in today’s Boston Globe. For 25 years, the never-married Tony Torosian daily showed up in Boston courtrooms to watch and listen; “almost religiously devoted to observing the operations of this court,” Judge Mark L. Wolf noted in Tony’s obit. Courtroom drama is exactly that. So I completely understand Mr. Torosian’s devotion.
The six or seven Nesto supporters from Friends Meeting at Cambridge who religiously showed up at his trial were not there for the free show, however. Yes, of course we were there to show our support. But we were also—at least I was—white faces in that courtroom for the jury to see.
FYI: I have been a white face in a courtroom once before, four years ago, in a case of racial profiling and the Medford (MA) police. Embracing my “White Supremacy Culture” values [see p. 29 of Way Opens], i.e. “worshipping the written word,” I sat in the front row busily taking notes. By the third day, a defense attorney told me: “You being here makes a difference.”
Part of me celebrates that people from my faith community—and others—sat in that courtroom every day. (It’s important to note that many of those same people had also helped to raise the $50,000 bail money so that Nesto could get out of jail two years ago. Halleluiah!)
But. But: Why should our white faces make a difference? In the midst of all the joy that Nesto’s been acquitted lies profound sadness for me. How incredibly sad that who’s sitting in a courtroom should be a factor, a player, in our criminal justice system, a system that overwhelmingly convicts men and women of color.
It’s tricky. Yes, absolutely, white people should be showing up, should be witnessing, should be a presence in every courtroom in this country when the defendant’s race is, in some significant way, an issue.* But as exhilarating as it is to think, “My presence could possibly make a difference,” any of us who decide to engage in this kind of witnessing need to be doing from a very deep, profound, humble, SAD place. Moment by moment we need to remind ourselves that we live in a country when, so painfully often, it is only when white people become engaged that things change.
*I hope it’s obvious that I’m NOT talking about letting someone off because they’re black. But given the absolutely appalling behavior last weekend by the Tea Party crazies, thought I’d be really, really explicit.